Book Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #2
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-072214

From the publisher—

After her philandering husband died and left her penniless in Prohibition-era New York, Lola Woodby escaped with her Swedish cook to the only place she could―her deceased husband’s secret love nest in the middle of Manhattan. Her only comforts were chocolate cake, dime store detective novels, and the occasional highball (okay, maybe not so occasional). But rent came due and Lola and Berta were forced to accept the first job that came their way, leading them to set up shop as private detectives operating out of Alfie’s cramped love nest.

Now Lola and Berta are in danger of losing the business they’ve barely gotten off the ground―work is sparse and money is running out. So when a society matron offers them a job, they take it―even if it means sneaking into a slimming and exercise facility and consuming only water and health food until they can steal a diary from Grace Whiddle, a resident at the “health farm.” But barely a day in, Grace and her diary escape from the facility―and Grace’s future mother-in-law is found murdered on the premises. Lola and Berta are promptly fired. But before they can climb into Lola’s brown and white Duesenberg Model A and whiz off the health farm property, they find themselves with a new client and a new charge: to solve the murder of Grace’s future mother-in-law.

I’m not a strong fan of fiction set in the Roaring Twenties but, every now and then, I come across an author who just does it right, if you know what I mean. I had “met” Maia Chance before with a very different series and knew from that one that I would almost certainly love this book (I haven’t read the first one) and indeed I do.

While Lola does indulge in a bit of wallowing in self-pity—who wouldn’t, considering the circumstances?—she’s a woman who’s not afraid to step out of her society comfort zone when it becomes obvious she needs to make a living. With one sleuthing case under their belts, Lola and Berta have enough confidence to take on a second retrieval which is a good thing if they want to pay the rent and have a cocktail or two, not to mention fulfill Lola’s craving for sweets. Unfortunately for a mother-in-law-to-be, that retrieval turns into a murder investigation and Lola and Berta may or may not be up to the job.

These two very different ladies are a hoot and, as often as not, they come across clues because they sort of stumble their way there, not because they’re really good at what they do (although it must be noted that Berta is probably the more intelligent of the duo). There’s a lot of humor here but also a darned good cozy mystery, one that kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Although there’s a vast difference in wealth, readers who are drawn to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion, Dot, will also love Lola and Berta and enjoy the heck out of their adventures. Maia Chance has a fine touch and creates characters and plots filled with humor and more than a bit of pizazz; I am most certainly a fan of Lola and Berta 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.


Lola and Berta may not be Holmes and Watson,
but their deficits in experience and talent are balanced
by determination and an abundance of action.
P.G. Wodehouse fans will find a lot to like.
—Publishers Weekly


To enter the drawing for a print
copy of Teetotaled
by Maia Chance,
just leave a comment below. The
name will be drawn on Friday

night, October 7th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Terrible Typhoid MaryTerrible Typhoid Mary
A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-31367-5

From the publisher—

Mary Mallon was a cook. A good cook, with a terrible temper. She worked for the wealthiest families in New York City. But all that changed when six members of the Warren household fell sick, and Mary mysteriously disappeared. The hunt for “Typhoid Mary” began. 

Mallon’s complex story illustrates that a “culture of shame” is not a new phenomenon. The methods of castigating women for seemingly offensive behavior may be different but the struggle for girls and women to recover is remarkably similar. When examined through this lens, a woman who is assumed to have played a large role in the spread of a terrible disease is shown to been a victim herself. The book also raises questions about reactions to “disaster diseases” and how they catapult communities into questionable actions. 

I’ve known about Typhoid Mary as far back as I can remember and was always intrigued by this cautionary tale but knew little of this woman’s story beyond the fact that she was an asymptomatic carrier of a deadly disease. When I was offered the opportunity to read this new biography, I jumped at the chance and I’m really glad I did.

Mary Mallon was a woman trapped by her times and its male-dominated society but also a victim of yellow journalism and the misguided intentions of scientists and doctors, led by sanitary engineer and epidemiologist Dr. George A. Soper, who valued their work far above human rights. Until now, I had no idea that this Irish immigrant cook was only the first of numerous “healthy carriers” and that, in fact, she caused the deaths of many fewer people than the old tales would have us believe. She did make a lot of people sick but she didn’t understand how and it didn’t help that Soper and others let their arrogance towards an uneducated poor woman get in the way of gaining her cooperation. If only they had treated her with respect and compassion, the second half of Mary’s life would have gone much differently.

The award-winning Ms. Bartoletti has done extensive research and it shows but, more importantly, she sheds a light on the paternalistic attitudes in existence in the first third of the 20th century and the willingness of those in power to ignore legalities and the Constitution itself even when confronted with the illogic of what they do. Written for the young adult market, Terrible Typhoid Mary also has much to offer adults as well as middle graders not only in the riveting story of one unfortunate woman but in what power run amok can do. A cautionary tale, indeed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.